Jo Whiley fears vaccine offer for sister too late as she fights Covid in hospital

DJ talks about ‘worst week of our lives’ after sister, who has learning disability and diabetes, caught virus

Jo Whiley has said her sister, who has a learning disability and diabetes, has finally been offered a Covid vaccine, but it may have come too late as Frances is “fighting for life” in hospital.

The BBC Radio 2 DJ said it had been “the worst week of our lives” and 24 hours ago medical staff were discussing palliative care for her sister, although on Saturday “she rallied round” and her oxygen levels were beginning to rise.

“At the moment we’ve got hope; 24 hours ago we didn’t have any hope at all. She is an amazing fighter, she always has been a great fighter and I’m just hoping her spirit gets her through,” Whiley told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show.

Last week she spoke of the “nightmare” of being offered a Covid vaccine before her sister. Frances, who is 53, is in the 6th priority group for vaccination but, due to her diabetes and an underlying health condition, Whiley believed she should be in the 4th group for the clinically extremely vulnerable.

Frances tested positive for Covid-19 after an outbreak at her care home in Northamptonshire.

A Public Health England study found the death rate from coronavirus among people with learning disabilities was up to six times higher than the general population during the first wave of the pandemic, and the death rate for people aged 18 to 34 with learning disabilities was 30 times higher than the rate in the same age group without disabilities.

Whiley said “it couldn’t be crueler” that Frances’s invitation for the vacinne had come through on Saturday night as she fought the disease in hospital, which she described as a terrifying ordeal for her sibling.

Whiley, 55, said her sister was “so terrified she actually rampaged through the hospital” when she was admitted after contracting the virus and security guards had been called in to restrain her. Whiley added she was thankful her parents were allowed to be at her sister’s side.

“The idea of Frances having to do this on her own is unthinkable,” Whiley said. “The fact my mum was there and was able to talk her down and to be there with her and to try to give her oxygen was absolutely crucial.”

Whiley said people with learning disabilities have complex needs and it is difficult to predict how they will respond to treatment. “Quite often they can’t communicate, they’re terrified, they don’t know what’s going on, they have no comprehension of what Covid is and what’s happening to them,” she said.

She said Frances was so “petrified” she could not tolerate being given an oxygen mask and her condition deteriorated as a result. “She just would not allow anyone to put anything near her face. She has an incredible superhuman strength so you can’t physically make her lay down, you can’t do anything, and that is why her oxygen levels plummeted. That’s why she ended up fighting for her life because you couldn’t do the most basic simple things that you would do to try and get somebody through Covid.”

Whiley said she hoped speaking out about her sister’s experience would highlight the need to get people with learning disabilities vaccinated as soon as possible.

She said: “Forget the classifications, forget the cohorts, just protect these people. They are so precious, they’re so vulnerable and they have no way of fighting for themselves, we have to fight for them. Get them and their carers vaccinated, stop them dying.”


Jessica Murray

The GuardianTramp

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